Trump's Election Day surge powered by small-town America

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President Donald Trump supporters wave a flag during an election watch party Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Chandler, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

President Donald Trump's reelection campaign long maintained there were thousands of new supporters tucked into rural, red pockets of the country who would come out and vote for the president when asked.

On Election Day, it put up some proof.

With the race unsettled in several key battlegrounds, Trump's strong Election Day surge may not be enough to overcome a Democratic operation that also turned out its vote. With votes still being counted, the total turnout has already surpassed 2016 levels.

But the tight presidential races and unexpected Democratic losses in congressional races demonstrated the resilient power of Trump’s appeal with rural, white voters and a growing polarization that may outlast his leadership.

William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, said the Trump campaign strategy is tenuously built on increasing support in places that are losing population, while the Democrats' rely on groups with growing cities and suburbs.

“The clock is ticking," Frey said. “But in this election we found it’s not ticking fast enough for the Democrats.”

Even as the winner of the White House was unclear, Republicans had victories to celebrate Wednesday and white, rural voters to thank.

In Iowa, Democrats had hoped to pick up a Senate seat, but Trump won the state handily on the strength of his rural turnout and GOP Sen. Joni Ernst held her seat.